Revolver: Flashbacks done right

Revolver Book Review

What is this about?: This is a family saga, of the story of three different generations told in one book. The story revolves around the Walczak family: the death of a patriarch cop and his partner in 1965; his son’s search for his killer in 1995 and the final chapter in 2015 is his grand-daughter’s story as she closes the case.

What else is this about?: Family — complicated, messy family relationships where no one is perfect and everyone is frustrating.

Stars: 4/5

Should you read: God yes.

Blurb: Three generations torn apart–by bullets fired fifty years ago.

Philadelphia, 1965: Two street cops–one black, one white–are gunned down in a corner bar. One of the fallen officers, Stan Walczak, leaves behind a 12-year-old boy, Jimmy.

Philadelphia, 1995: Homicide detective Jim Walczak learns that his father’s alleged killer, Terrill Lee Stanton, has been sprung from prison. Jim stalks the ex-con, hoping to finally learn the truth.

Philadelphia, 2015: Jim’s daughter Audrey, a forensic science student, re-opens her grandfather’s murder for a research paper. But as Audrey digs deeper, she comes to realize that Stanton probably didn’t pull the trigger–and her father may have made a horrible mistake…

To say flashbacks and different timelines annoy me is an understatement. That’s mostly because they’re more often than not done badly and fall into the realm of bloody frustrating very quickly. Revolver, mercifully, is exquisite. No seriously. And for one very simple reason: there are three stories being told in one book, and I feel like the author must’ve written three novellas before putting them together like this for they are fully realised stories, each feeding into the other — but without leaving you reading one section, and needing a flashback chapter to explain it.

I might’ve done a happy dance.

This is the story of the Walczak family — Stan and his partner George who are killed in the line of duty in 1965. Jim, Stan’s son, a cop himself, in 1995 is faced with the thought that his father’s killer is now out on parole and in 2015, Jim’s estranged daughter Audrey is trying to save her CSI academic skin by investigating her grandfather’s murder and solving it in a week. She’s desperate.

The scope of Revolver is impressive and the beauty of Duane Swierczynski’s writing is that each timeline reads like a complete story as if the entire book were just about that generation. In the 1965 chapters, we learn of Stan and George’s lives as cops, and their partnership in an era filled with racism (George is African American). It details the events and the investigation leading to their death, while showing us what Stan’s life is at home and his relationship with Jimmy.

Jim, who in 1995, is investigating the murder of a young woman while faced with the thought of his father’s killer’s release from prison. He has always been convinced of Terrill Lee Stanton’s guilt and when Stanton is released on parole, Jim knows he can’t let that happen without doing something. Here, the seeds for the 2015 chapter are sowed and Audrey’s attempt at solving the case.

Audrey is difficult to like, and in her chapters we see how far the family has fractured in 2015. Audrey is an island in the family through her own doing in essence and she resents it and wears it like a shield to protect her from any other emotion. She’s made a life for herself away from her family, who literally know nothing about her other than she’s studying forensic science. Given the previous chapters this distance is heartbreaking and highlights just how quickly families change, how they are affected by one event. She is determined to solve her grandfather’s murder, despite her family’s protestations. Audrey is a compelling, hard character and still I would read anything with her and her family.

This is an exhausting read, but I mean that in the best way. I still don’t completely like Audrey, but she’s still the one that shines in this story. I commented on a recent blogger discussion about how books need unlikeable characters and Audrey certainly does fall into the category of a compelling if unlikeable character.

Revolver is a story across generations, following how one event breaks a family apart and puts it back together over three generations.

I cannot recommend this enough! Let me know your thoughts about it in the comments below.


  • Wonderful review! I remember reading about this last year and wanting to read it, so I definitely need to check it out.

  • Lola says:

    I don’t think I have read many family saga’s, but it does sound interesting with how it span multiple generations in one book. And it sounds impressive how the author managed to combine basically 3 different stories in one book without it being annoying. Flashbacks can be done well, but they can also annoy me when they aren’t done well.
    And Audrey definitely sounds like one of those unlikeable characters who are still compelling to read about.

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